Bucking the Trend, Nissan Insists It's Still Committed to Small Cars

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
bucking the trend nissan insists its still committed to small cars

While public interest in crossovers has encouraged Nissan to rejigger its global offerings, the automaker has refused to abandon small sedans. It’s something we’ve seen across the board with Japanese automakers. As the crossover craze hit full swing, both Toyota and Honda said that abandoning entry-level automobiles might mean leaving first-time buyers behind. Despite crossovers bringing in more customers and money, small sedans and hatchbacks have a tendency to reel in new, young customers. Japanese brands sees the prospect of gaining life-long patrons as an advantage, especially as other automakers (*ahem, the Detroit Three*) shift away from such vehicles.

Nissan’s situation is more complicated. It can’t ignore its bottom line after last months’s dismal financial report, and rumors abound that it will soon begin to pair down its lineup. However, that will not involve culling its small-car offerings.

According to Automotive News, the brand’s logic is the same as what’s accepted by Toyota and Honda. Nissan sees the likes of the Versa and Sentra as useful tools in capturing new customers and says it has no plans to discontinue either.

“We still see in these segments 5 million car sales a year,” explained Scott Shirley, Nissan’s vice president of marketing operations. “We are redoubling our forecast; we are concentrating on delivering much better value, much stronger product to the market and a much better ownership experience.”

From Automotive News:

Nissan executives contend lower-cost small cars remain relevant, especially for price-conscious first-time car buyers. They point to Nissan-commissioned research that shows 78 percent of American drivers who don’t own a sedan will consider buying one soon. Meanwhile, 86 percent of buyers between ages 18 and 34 who don’t own a sedan will consider buying one soon, according to the research.

The target customer for Nissan’s compact cars “is far more aligned with sedans,” Shirley said.

With Ford and other U.S. auto brands cutting their losses and exiting the sedan market, Nissan sees an opportunity to grab a larger slice of the shrinking pie. The Sentra and Versa combined to account for 13.4 percent of the U.S. small-car market last year, up from 10.9 percent five years ago.

The majority of that has gone to the Sentra, however. Domestic Versa deliveries declined from 144,528 units in 2015 to just 75,809 in 2018. By contrast, the Sentra saw a modest uptick in sales; Nissan has consistently moved over 200,000 annual units in the U.S. since 2015.

Nissan expects lower volumes for 2019; however, that will be due partially to its decision to move away from fleet sales. Rather than perpetually hunting down volume, the brand’s previous modus operandi, Nissan hopes to improve its retail margins without leaning on heavy incentives. A challenge, but one Shirley claimed the manufacturer is up for.

“We expect that we can grow the retail sales volume,” he said. “We also recognize that there is a profitable, rational level of fleet that can be done as well.”

Nissan’s plan hinges on sprucing up fleet models with more content. While it likely won’t occur overnight, Nissan has already updated the Versa to that effect. The same can be expected for the Sentra before year’s end — resulting in a better-equipped car with a new look and revised powertrain for 2020. The trick will be finding balance. Nissan can’t abandon fleet sales outright, nor can it assume consumers will immediately sweep up its improved compact and sedan offerings, but it might be able to chisel out a place for itself as other companies focus primarily on crossover vehicles.

[Images: Nissan]

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  • TheDumbGuy TheDumbGuy on Aug 12, 2019

    @Matt- >>> PARE down its lineup

  • Oberkanone Oberkanone on Aug 12, 2019

    Chevrolet abandoned the Cruze and they were selling over 200,000 annual US & Canada combined. I just spent a week with a Nissan Sentra and I'd take just about any compact instead of the Sentra. Except for FIAT. Well, unless it was an Abarth FIAT.

  • Jeanbaptiste Any variant of “pizza” flavored combos. I only eat these on car trips and they are just my special gut wrenching treat.
  • Nrd515 Usually for me it's been Arby's for pretty much forever, except when the one near my house dosed me with food poisoning twice in about a year. Both times were horrible, but the second time was just so terrible it's up near the top of my medical horror stories, and I have a few of those. Obviously, I never went to that one again. I'm still pissed at Arby's for dropping Potato Cakes, and Culver's is truly better anyway. It will be Arby's fish for my "cheat day", when I eat what I want. No tartar sauce and no lettuce on mine, please. And if I get a fish and a French Dip & Swiss? Keep the Swiss, and the dip, too salty. Just the meat and the bread for me, thanks. The odds are about 25% that they will screw one or both of them up and I will have to drive through again to get replacement sandwiches. Culver's seems to get my order right many times in a row, but if I hurry and don't check my order, that's when it's screwed up and garbage to me. My best friend lives on Starbucks coffee. I don't understand coffee's appeal at all. Both my sister and I hate anything it's in. It's like green peppers, they ruin everything they touch. About the only things I hate more than coffee are most condiments, ranked from most hated to..who cares..[list=1][*]Tartar sauce. Just thinking about it makes me smell it in my head. A nod to Ranch here too. Disgusting. [/*][*]Mayo. JEEEEZUS! WTF?[/*][*]Ketchup. Sweet puke tasting sludge. On my fries? Salt. [/*][*]Mustard. Yikes. Brown, yellow, whatever, it's just awful.[/*][*]Pickles. Just ruin it from the pickle juice. No. [/*][*]Horsey, Secret, whatever sauce. Gross. [/*][*]American Cheese. American Sleeze. Any cheese, I don't want it.[/*][*]Shredded lettuce. I don't hate it, but it's warm and what's the point?[/*][*]Raw onion. Totally OK, but not something I really want. Grilled onions is a whole nother thing, I WANT those on a burger.[/*][*]Any of that "juice" that Subway and other sandwich places want to put on. NO, HELL NO! Actually, move this up to #5. [/*][/list=1]
  • SPPPP It seems like a really nice car that's just still trying to find its customer.
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